Amazing Days in May, Day One

May 1, 2020
Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Smiling all the way

Sometimes the goddesses of wildflower chasers smile. May Day was one of those days.

We set off eager to be outside after days of sheltering at home, yearning to find wildflowers while still maintaining social distancing. The day was breezy, alternately overcast and sunny, with temperatures in the high sixties.  Our hopes were just as high.

Our first stop:  Grey Cloud Dunes Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) to check out a sand blowout where we’d seen leaves of violets (prairie?  bird’s foot?)a few weeks back. Along the trail to the blowout we passed pussytoes budding, deep pink prairie smoke almost blooming, wild strawberries opening white flowers, and clumps of bergamot leaves. When we glimpsed intimations of purple ahead, Kelly raced down the path to try to catch the overcast light perfect for photographs before the sun emerged from the clouds. All around the blowout vivid violets (they turned out to be bird’s foot) blossomed, more than either of us had ever seen in one place before.  In the midst of the violets one blue-eyed grass bloomed. How could the day get any better?

We found out how a little later when we stopped along a wooded stretch of road where more bright purple violets (woodland ones this time) caught our eye.  Spring had climbed the hillside with flowers of both yellow and white trout lily, bloodroot, cut-leaf toothwort, round-lobed and sharp-lobed hepatica, eastern false rue-anemone, and Dutchman’s breeches hanging out its pantaloon-shaped flowers.  We were close to the place where we had tentatively identified the leaves and buds of squirrel corn a week ago, so we stopped to see if the plants were now in bloom– the one sure way we could tell squirrel corn from Dutchman’s breeches, since both have similar leaves, grow in the same habitat, and bloom at the same time.

And did they bloom! The squirrel corn plants we’d found in leaf and bud were full of gracefully elegant heart-shaped flowers.  And because the plants were blooming, we could spot more and more of them revealed up the hillside. Farther along the roadside we found even more plants and blossoms, a wealth of squirrel corn, climbing up a ravine and mingling with Dutchman’s breeches.

Squirrel corn was only the beginning. Along the same stretch of road we found swaths of Virginia spring beauty, bellwort, bishop’s cap, rue-anemone, trillium–drooping, large-flowered, nodding—in bud or just opening, wild ginger, Dutchman’s breeches, mayapples opening umbrellas of leaves, and wood anemone.  Woodpeckers hammered, birds we couldn’t identify called through the trees,   and the air hummed with pollinators from tiny flies to bumblebee queens so big they pulled down the blossoms they landed on. A bellwort flower shook with the busy work of a bee that had disappeared inside.

Higher up the hillside we found the emerging leaves of a showy orchis, and as we slipped and slid back down the hill we came across the patterned leaves of downey rattlesnake plantain orchid.

Sometimes the wildflower goddesses smile, who know why?  On May Day they smiled down on us with every springtime flower we could imagine, tossing in squirrel corn, showy orchis leaves, and downy rattlesnake plantain leaves besides.

The goddesses smiled, and we smiled, too. After a day like this, we’ll be smiling for a long, long time.


Don’t Give Up

April 24, 2020

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Wildflower season is moving toward full springtime bloom, and this year we’ve decided to only go to places where we can maintain social distance and avoid potentially crowded trails. Cannon River Trout Lily Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) near Faribault has only one trail into the part of the SNA that is reachable by car (parts of the SNA require a canoe), so we headed there.   Trout lily leaves grew thickly by the parking space at the end of a dead-end road, and several graceful trout lily flowers nodded in the breeze. Bright white bloodroot and more trout lilies bloomed along the abandoned roadway that leads to the actual SNA entrance, so our hopes were high for early flowers and perhaps even a sighting of Minnesota’s own rare dwarf trout lily along the riverbank.

We followed the trail into the SNA as far as a decrepit bridge where signs warned not to cross. So we climbed down to the floodplain forest floor, winding our way between muddy spots, ephemeral pools, and downed trees, and hopping across murky streams.  We had wanted a pathless place, and clearly we had found one.

The farther we went, though, the less we saw on the washed-over floodplain except for occasional Virginia waterleaf leaves. When we eventually reached the riverbank hardly a trout lily leaf or a single wildflower was in sight. Had we made a mistake coming here?

Not at all. It was a warm spring day, the river burbled, birds called, woodpeckers hammered,  a frog (or was it a toad?) crossed our path, and we were glad just to be outside.  Not yet ready to leave, we followed along the foot of a bluff and discovered an abundance of blossoms climbing the hillside– wild ginger, spring beauty, eastern false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, the unfolding leaves of bellwort, and a burst of white flowers that we identified as sharp-lobed hepatica. Delighting in each new find we wandered along the bluff, reluctant to reach the car and head home.

It would have been easy enough to decide to turn back when we found ourselves crossing a flattened floor of mud or when we didn’t see much of anything at all that we had set out to find. If we had turned back, though, we would have missed the surprise of a bluff full of  flowers, the budding promise of more flowers to come,  and the certain knowledge that spring is here.

You just never know what you might find when you go out flower chasing—and don’t give up.



A Weekend of Firsts

April 19, 2020

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

On a brisk and breezy Saturday under a blue, blue sky and after another week of sheltering at home, we set off to find out how far spring has progressed.  It’s been a cold week, but maybe bloodroot, one of the first woodland flowers, will be blooming, and we’ll be lucky enough to find it.

First stop:  Zumbro Falls Woods Scientific and Natural Area (SNA), 430 wooded acres along the Zumbro River and one of our favorite springtime spots. We’re early for this year, we know, and at first it seems we’re too early for any flowers.  But we are out, chasing wildflowers from a social distance, and it feels like freedom.

The shooting stars are no more than small clusters of leaves—but so many, some of them growing up through the snow.  In a week or two they’ll burst into bunches of brilliant blossoms.  Other plants, too, have made a leafy appearance:  Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, a few hepatica. Farther down the slope toward the Zumbro River we find hepaticas in full bloom and  trout lily leaves poking up through the last drifts of snow.  Lower still down the hillside, Virginia bluebells are budding, and tiny Virginia spring beauty surprises us with their pink and white flowers in bunches like tiny bouquets.  Anemone, too, has tiny buds among its reddish leaves. We are on the verge of springtime here, a well-earned springtime after a hard winter and a harder time of coronavirus.

Next stop, Carley State Park, where the wind rushes through the treetops.  Here, too, the Virginia bluebells are budding along with  Dutchman’s breeches.  A hillside of hepatica runs down toward the river below, and soft grey-green wild ginger leaves unfold.  Here we find our first bloodroot blooming, still wrapped in its leaf, and our first tiny anemone blossoms opening.  Sharply pointed spears poke up, and we tentatively name them as the first mayapples.  In the shelter of tree roots we see our first trout lily flower buds, and by a rocky outcrop our first western Jacob’s ladder leaves. So many firsts–beginnings and buds and promises –this is what spring looks like, and it makes us so glad.

Even driving, we keep discovering spring.  Sandhill cranes fly overhead, pelicans make vees in the sky, and raptors ride the wind. While we don’t necessarily advocate drive-by flower chasing, we’re excited to find pasqueflowers on a sandy roadside cut.  As we head for Kelly’s cabin and pizza and wine, we make one last stop where we spot an abundance of bloodroot blooms white by the roadside.  It’s late enough in the day that the bloodroot are actually closing up, folding up their petals.  We’re ready to close up the day as well, knowing that even in hard times spring returns to our woods and prairies and to our hearts.

On Sunday morning as we head home we stop along a wooded roadside and find, for the first time ever, what we think is squirrel corn, a close relative of Dutchman’s breeches that we’ve been hunting for years now.  We’ll come back when the plants bloom to verify, but for now we’re giddy with the possibility of seeing squirrel corn at long last.

One last first:  along the drive home a flock of pelicans flies overhead, and as they turn in the sky, the light on their wings makes them seem to vanish.  Turning again, they are white against the blue sky, then gone, then back again.  An amazing finish to an amazing weekend of wildflower chasing.

We’re grateful.